Poet Al Jalawi Violence Against Writers in Bahrain 'as Bad as Ever'
The poet Ali Al Jalawi has been imprisoned twice in his home country Bahrain. He has now fled to Germany where he spoke to SPIEGEL about the dangers facing writers and activists -- and why, despite everything, he wants to return home.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Al Jalawi you are a famous poet in your home country of Bahrain but you are now seeking refuge in Germany. Why?
Al Jalawi: Following the democratic protests in February, there have been raids across the country and many people have been imprisoned. I recited a poem to demonstrators on a large square in the center of the capital Manama. Afterwards I heard that my parents had been visited by the security forces and I knew that I would have to leave Bahrain. First, I travelled to Lebanon and then came to Germany.
SPIEGEL: What were you afraid might happen?
Al Jalawi: In the 1990s I was in prison twice. The first time I was imprisoned because of a poem that I wrote when I was 17 and the second time it was because I had joined a campaign for political rights. I was tortured and I do not ever want to experience that again.
SPIEGEL: Has violence against writers increased in recent months?
Al Jalawi: There were always three big taboos which were not to be written about: sex, religion and politics. If you wrote about them you would go straight to prison. In recent years the situation improved a bit but now it is as bad as it has ever been. I know two writers who died after spending two days in prison.
SPIEGEL: What are your plans in Germany?
Al Jalawi: My temporary visa has just expired but fortunately the writers' organisation PEN arranged a fellowship for me in Weimar. I am very grateful -- it saved me from a lengthy asylum application.
SPIEGEL: Do you believe that the situation in Bahrain will soon change?
Al Jalawi: No. The royal family and the ministers have been in power for a very long time and they will do every thing they can to extend their power. I think that I will have to stay in Germany for a long time. But even though my country is a desert, I want to go back. I left my wife and 10-year-old son behind.
Interview conducted by Johan Dehoust